Westmont Magazine Overheard at the Inauguration
Edited excerpts from major addresses at Gayle Beebe’s inauguration April 11
Gayle Beebe: The Intellectual Awakening that Forever Changed My Life
The theme of our inauguration, “The Global Imperative:Education and the Knowledge Society in the 21st Century,” is taken from the rise of the global world and community. We now recognize that forces originating locally, regionally, nationally and globally affect all of us every day of our life. The term “global” is at least 400 years old, but its widespread use didn’t begin until the early 1960s, and it didn’t become a topic of interest to academia until the 1980s. Disciplines such as sociology, political science, economics, communication studies, and others have begun to study concepts like globalization closely and apply them broadly. We’ve been compressed into a global village, and our focus on globalization during this inauguration is intended to address the global interdependence we now feel and the reality we recognize and to which we must respond.
Thirty years ago I began my own college career. My intention had been to attend the University of Oregon, but through a variety of circumstances I enrolled at George Fox College in Newburg, Ore. During high school I was a very serious student. I took all the hard classes, loved competing in the classroom and graduated at the top of my class. But I was not intellectually curious. My motivation for study was to get good grades, to qualify for college scholarships and to stay eligible for sports. My parents made an effort to expose me to cultural activities, which included seven years of cello and piano lessons, Bach festivals, Mozart concerts, art museums, famous plays and more. But the idea of spending discretionary time on elective reading or cultural enrichment was not part of my makeup. I remember a friend asking me at the end of one school year what I would read over the summer. Puzzled I replied, “You mean besides Sports Illustrated?”
But then it happened. During my college experience, I had an intellectual awakening that has forever changed me. Through a variety of courses, a mix of professors, and especially the influence of a key few friends, I began to study everything I could get my hands on. I read history, literature, poetry, music theory and communication theory. I traveled to art museums and listened to cello concerts. I tried to understand the systems and structures of our world by reading physics and studying astronomy. I took a ceramics class, reflected on world civilization and poured over church history and theology.
Every area of knowledge became vital and real to me because I had learned how to look at it in a new way. I could not get enough of this learning. For the first time, the world began to make sense to me. Not that I could understand it all, but the opportunity to explore it was the most precious thing I’d ever experienced. I could see how every part of life and every part of our knowledge of life could hold together. My sense of excitement in discovering these patterns of meaning and the opportunity to study great ideas in warm, intimate quarters with close friends and professors began to matter to me.
A central part of my intellectual awakening occurred during fall semester of 1980 when I came to Westmont as a consortium exchange student to study with Dr. Robert Gundry, who read our passages this morning. The class I enjoyed with him and the entire semester experience had an absolutely stunning impact on me, and I have been thankful for it ever since. Every session was carefully crafted and intended to take us deeper and broader in our knowledge and insight in the subject material. Every class pushed and prodded us to the absolute limits of what we could learn and absorb. Dr. Gundry’s graciousness of style matched his clarity of thought. What we didn’t understand in the classroom he discussed with us over lunch or in his office. He even invited us into his home. He embodied in every way the relentless commitment to excellence that is a hallmark of Westmont and became a guiding ideal for my own life.
I have often joked that I was here long enough to fall in love with the college but not long enough to see any of its problems. My own experience was not unique. During this first year I have had the opportunity to travel the country and meet with dozens and dozens of alums. In their own way, they repeat almost verbatim the story I’ve told you this morning of the deep and abiding appreciation for Westmont, for what the education has done for them. For how it helped them to begin to put together what their life would be about, of how God could use them, of how this motif base could sustain them all their life.
Steve Forbes: We Need a Strong Moral Foundation as We Reach Out into the World
We live in an era that underscores as never before — and you certainly represent it here — that the true source of wealth, the true source of capital for an economy is not physical things, it’s the metaphysical. It’s the human mind, imagination, inventiveness and a sense of innovation that enables a people to move forward. The so-called information age began with the microchip. In days of old, people thought wealth meant large tracts of land, piles of gold and jewelry, and massive armies. But what is a microchip? Silicon, sand. There is no shortage of sand in this world. We think of natural resources as a source of wealth, and we certainly see that today with oil rising to ever higher prices. But that’s a temporary phenomenon. What is oil? It’s glop; you can’t eat it, drink it or feed it to camels. What made oil indispensable today is human innovation. Once upon a time, oil in the ground depressed property values and made animals sick.
Look around the world at those who move ahead, and it’s not so-called natural resources that do it, it’s people who learn to use them. Sixty years ago, Hong Kong was one of the poorest specks of real estate on earth. It didn’t even have water. Yet in a period of a few decades Hong Kong became rich with one of the highest per capita incomes in the world by using and liberating the human imagination.
There is no shortage of energy in the world, of people scrambling to get ahead. This is where Westmont — and the United States — come in. If you create the institutions that turn these energies into something you can build on, people can truly move ahead. There is a moral foundation to commerce; you succeed by meeting the needs and wants of other people. Even if you think you’re in it for yourself, you don’t succeed unless you meet the desires of your customers. If you’re not willing to take risks, you’re not going to get ahead. Misers, people who simply clutch what they have in a selfish way, do not go out and found the Wal-Marts, the Microsofts and the Googles of the world. They simply live a narrow and constricted existence.
We have a seeming paradox in the United States. On the one hand, we’re the most commercial nation ever invented, but, on the other hand, we’re also the most philanthropic nation ever invented. What people give in resources and in volunteer time is unprecedented, and other countries are now starting to try to emulate us. In a sense, business and philanthropy aren’t opposite ends, they’re really two sides of the same coin with the same ultimate goal.
Globalization simply means we interact more with the rest of the world, having more and more webs of cooperation, liberating the mind for more and more people. If you liberate minds all of us move ahead. Commerce should not be a zero-sum game, somebody’s gain is somebody else’s loss. Globalization means we can cooperate and mutually benefit from that cooperation. Yes, there will be competition, but competition also means the customer comes out ahead.
This brings me to the importance of what Westmont does and the moral foundations that it tries to create in all of its students. We think of economics as just material things but if you don’t have a moral foundation, if you don’t have a strong sense of what is right and wrong, commerce ultimately comes to a halt, at least progress comes to a halt. You need an environment where people can take risks, which means the rule of law, you need an environment where people have a sense of right and wrong, because if they don’t, the system doesn’t work. It’s based on trust.
There is a need for that strong moral foundation as we reach out into the world. We’ve had periods of great spurts of globalization before, from the end of the Napoleonic Wars to the First World War. But then came the war, the Great Depression, the Second World War, and the rise of totalitarian ideologies: Communism, Fascism, Naziism. We thought we finally beat those with the end of the Cold War, but now we’re facing another kind of fanaticism in the world and hideous, nihilistic ideas. If you look at the ideologies of some of these extremists today, you find a lethal mix of Marxism, Nietzsche-like nihilism and Fascism.
So people can move forward and make material progress. But without the kind of moral foundation and values you represent here, the world will ultimately destroy itself and civilization will go into a new dark age. So today you celebrate a new president. Gayle’s got a fantastic background and understands the kind of world we live in. Even though Westmont may be a small institution, you will provide a vital role in expanding these webs of cooperation, webs of trust, that will make it possible to realize our own God-given talents and, in doing so, continually recognize we’re on this Earth truly for a higher purpose.
Steve Sample: We Must Help Students Become Better Citizens of the World
I think higher education in the United States is in the midst of a major, and welcome, transformation. In the years ahead we must not only provide students with a first-rate education in the conventional sense, but we must also help them to become better citizens of the world.
Today, most colleges and universities believe that developing a global focus is indeed imperative. At the heart of this global emphasis lies a question: “How can we best prepare our students to not only compete, but to thrive in a world that is becoming increasingly interconnected?”
The baccalaureate degree now plays a much different role than it did a half a century ago. Today, for most students at highly selective colleges and universities such as Westmont or USC, the baccalaureate is simply a preparatory degree. Almost all of these students will go on to master’s or doctoral programs or professional schools. This transformation of the baccalaureate degree has occurred for several reasons. First, knowledge is being generated much more rapidly today than in the past. Then too, the increasing complexity of our world is drastically changing every aspect of our students’ futures.
Several years ago at USC we revised our entire undergraduate curriculum . . . to help our students stretch their intellects through what we like to call “breadth with depth.” Our ideal is to help students develop the kind of intellectual flexibility displayed by the best thinkers of the European Renaissance. Take Leonardo da Vinci, for instance. He was able to comprehend a wide range of ideas in great depth, and bring them together in a way that serves as a paradigm of liberal education to this day. USC students are encouraged to major in whatever field they choose, but are then encouraged to take a second major or a minor in a field which is widely separated across the intellectual landscape from their major.
I also believe we should prepare our students for a changing world by teaching them to become better global citizens. Today our world is truly becoming a neighborhood: economically, politically, and socially. Geographical divides are being bridged over, tunneled under, and torn down. Competition from around the world for jobs is becoming greater than ever before.
American youngsters must learn to shed their insularity, broaden their horizons, and work more effectively with their peers in other countries. Therein lies a major challenge for all levels of the American educational system. Because in many ways the United States is the most parochial country on earth. Most of our students exit our elementary and secondary school system with only a marginal proficiency in just one language — English. That’s inconceivable in other countries! Moreover, the first two years of college work is essentially remedial for the average American student, especially when compared with his peers in other countries. Only after they become juniors and seniors in college do most American young people have a chance to catch up academically with their age-cohort in other countries.
Now I’d like to talk about something that is not changing. With so many demands on my time, many of my friends and colleagues ask me how I stay up-to-date with respect to so many disparate topics. The answer is, I don’t. Contrary to popular belief, leaders don’t need to stay abreast of the popular media and trade publications. A leader’s subordinates will always keep him posted regarding really important stories in the media.
So, what should leaders be reading? I recommend what I call the “supertexts” — writings that are 400 years old or more and that are still widely read today. Why? Because the supertexts offer timeless truths about human nature. One of the great fallacies of our age — and perhaps of any age — is the belief that we are fundamentally different from our ancient forebears, that we have somehow outgrown the barbaric and benighted practices of centuries and millennia past. What nonsense! Human nature has not changed much in 5,000 years. We are every bit as human, and no more human, than the people of 16th century Florence or those in the Old Testament. The supertexts, more than contemporary literature, do an excellent job of helping us understand this timelessness of human nature.
I believe that colleges and universities endure because our values prevail and our missions live on. Today at Westmont College you have a wonderful opportunity to pass these values on to generations of students, faculty, and alumni. It’s up to you to sense where this college’s opportunities lie, and to aggressively pursue those opportunities.